So far these positive trends have had no discernible impact on federal COVID-19 advice or on the policies of jurisdictions inclined to follow it. Vaccination is authorized for all Americans 12 or older and will soon be extended to younger children. Minors face a tiny risk of dying from COVID-19 in any case. Yet the CDC still says everyone, from toddlers to vaccinated adults, should “wear a mask indoors in public.” Officially, that advice applies to vaccinated people only if they live in “an area of substantial or high transmission,” but that description still covers nearly the entire country.
The CDC is likewise sticking with its recommendation that everyone in schools, regardless of age or vaccination status, wear a mask throughout the day, despite the lack of evidence that the benefits of that precaution outweigh the substantial burdens it imposes. Yesterday Florida’s new surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, who opposes school mask mandates, called the evidence in their favor “very weak,” saying “there is a substantial gap between the quality of the data” and “what we’re hearing from some of our public health leadership.”
That’s a fair assessment. At the point when the CDC issued its current recommendations for schools, it was not able to cite any research showing a statistically significant relationship between mask mandates and reduced virus transmission among students. Nearly all of the studies on which it relied did not even compare schools with mandates to otherwise similar schools without them.
Believing Covid shuts down businesses, closes schools, causes substance abuse, requires emergency orders, and so forth requires the unstated presumption that individuals are not the ones choosing to shut businesses, close schools, overindulge in alcohol and drugs, overindulge in emergency orders, and so forth. It’s a signature fallacy in the Covid era, and one that I had thought people would have given up by now.
To be blunt: Covid-19 cannot do those things. They are results of individuals’ choices. Yes, some individuals make choices out of fear of exposure to the virus, and so they avoid certain businesses and choose to stay and even work from home (or not work). Some business owners voluntarily close their doors. Some parents voluntarily choose homeschooling or online education over in-person schools.
But what media reports miss so consistently, to the point of deliberate ignorance, are the choices of certain other individuals and their effects. They include governors, public health bureaucrats, local officials, and even mayors who decided to order closures of certain businesses as “nonessential” or “too dangerous” and who decided to cripple the business models of many others with capacity limits, restricted hours, mask requirements, and whatever other arbitrary and capricious measures they willfully decided to impose. These individuals used real or asserted authority to coerce business owners into shutting their doors, putting their employees out of work, and taking other steps they might otherwise have not made on their own.
They, not Covid, are also responsible for closing the schools — if not executive officials, then the school board members or leaders. For families leaving public schools, it’s not the virus that’s making them seek alternatives. Many of them are seeking educators with a demonstrated commitment to education and values more closely aligned with their own, unlike public school leaders who could very well choose to close schools again and meanwhile continue to force ineffective masks on children.
The Coronavirus does not take people’s jobs, nor does it make individuals choose against retaining their jobs or seeking employment. There is a human being, not an insensate virus, responsible for each individual who leaves a job not to return.
A “let no crisis go to waste” attitude drives the intrusion of federal dollars into state budgets. The ratio of federal dollars to state spending tends to rise in fits and starts, with large increases occurring during or shortly after recessions. Accelerated growth in federal dollars offsets recessionary weakness in state revenue, pushing the overall share of federal dollars upward. The ratio tends to fall as the recession fades but never declines to its previous level, maintaining a new plateau that tends to be slightly lower than the recessionary peak but higher than the previous plateau.
This time, the federal role may not shrink at all. In contrast to previous recessions, state revenue remained relatively stable throughout the coronavirus recession. In previous downturns, the spike in the ratio owed to both weakness in state revenue and an increase in federal support; this time, it owed almost exclusively to the latter.
Scotland and Wales, unlike England, have kept their mask mandates in place and have introduced vaccine passports. Yet their Covid rates are just as high as in England.
My objections to vaccine passports are even stronger. They are illiberal and discriminatory. Plus, they are largely futile, given the extent of Covid infections among the vaccinated. Data from Public Health England show that most adult Covid cases (though not deaths) are now among the vaccinated. Excluding the unvaccinated minority from large events is therefore unlikely to bring cases down by much.